I’m a fan of “The Cranky Product Manager“. In one of her recent posts she talks about beta testing and boy did it ever hit close to home. As I step into my way back machine I’m reminded of many early products that could have used a little beta TLC before launch. Back in the days of Netscape and Mosaic the idea of beta testing wasn’t really discussed. In fact there are many things we did back then that would not be wise to repeat.
In fact, gazing into the distant past I recall my first job building websites. I was working on a website for a Major League Baseball team. I had been with the company all of about a two weeks so they had the new guy checking the support email. We had bunches of mail from fans looking for the team schedule on the newly designed site for the 1997 season. The number emails that came in asking this very simple but straight forward question should have prompted a quick response. But we sat on it for a little while thinking people were just clueless. No kidding this was one of the links from the global nav, c’mon people!
Ultimately a change was made to the homepage that included a more prominent link in the body of the page. I can’t help but think we could have avoided a hefty infux of confused and desperate fans with a beta test. Our internal testing was really around whether the links worked and if the pages displayed properly on PC’s. Usability was really just our best guess at how we would use the site. We were all experts back then!